NEPA Scene Staff

NEPA Philharmonic performs live for first time in a year on April 22 in Wilkes-Barre

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From a press release:

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic will present its first in-person performance in over a year at the First Presbyterian Church of Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, April 22.

From 7 p.m.-8 p.m., the NEPA Philharmonic Trio is performing Béla Bartók’s “Contrasts,” a masterpiece of the chamber music literature inspired by Hungarian and Romanian folklore, along with works by Johannes Brahms and Zoltán Kodály that showcase NEPP violinist Robyn Quinnett and clarinetist Pascal Archer with pianist Spencer Myer. Seats will be safely distanced.

Tickets, which are $35 to attend the show at the church (97 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre) and $10 to view the concert virtually at home, are on sale now here. Donations can also be made at that link.

This performance was rescheduled from last spring due to COVID-19. In the downtime over the past year, the Philharmonic has been featuring videos of performances and interviews with its musicians on its Facebook page and YouTube channel. In their latest video, NEPP Music Director Mélisse Brunet talked with Robyn Quinnett about her musical training growing up in a beautiful island in the Caribbean, her career as a violinist, and how she has kept herself busy during the pandemic:

In the late 1960s, the existence of separate Philharmonic groups in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton reflected the ideological separation between their namesakes. Though just a few miles apart in geography, there was little communication or shared resources between these two cities nestled in the valley of the Susquehanna River. For many local music supporters, the cooperation of the two orchestras seemed like an impossible dream, but the visionary boards of these two groups saw enormous potential.

What started as a few casual conversations between friends in early 1969 slowly began to pick up steam and, by October of that year, an exploratory committee of the two organizations had defined a cooperative mission and the goal of a joint orchestra offering four performances in each city for the 1970-71 season. A press conference in January of 1970 announced the formation of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic for a two-year trial period and was cited by one television editorialist as a milestone not only in the development of the performing arts, but also as the first real breakthrough in cooperation between the two cities and other areas of the region.

This new regional Philharmonic continued under the baton of two directors, Scranton’s Beatrice Brown, one of the few female conductors in the country at the time, and Wilkes-Barre’s Ferdinand Liva. The resignation of Brown in 1971 led to a search for a new conductor, and Polish-born maestro and Pittsburgh Symphony conductor Thomas Michalak was hired as the first official music director after the Philharmonic’s incorporation. The first performances were held on Oct. 21 and 22, 1972 at the Irem Temple in Wilkes-Barre and the Masonic Temple in Scranton, with a program including Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor.”

Under the direction of Michalak, the orchestra grew into a cohesive unit and, in 1979, he was succeeded as music director by Harvard University and Peabody Institute of Music graduate Hugh Wolff. The Philharmonic’s reputation and prestige soared under Wolff, highlighted by a statewide public television performance of the commissioned work “The River Flows” in 1982, a piece composed to celebrate the Commonwealth’s tercentennial. The early 1980s also saw the rise of the Philharmonic’s ability to attract world-class guest artists, including Wolff’s mentor, Mstislav Rostropovick, arguably one of the 20th century’s greatest cellists.

In 1986, Wolff was named the music director of the New Jersey Symphony, and the board’s search for a music director led to the appointment of London-born Hugh Keelan, a Cambridge University graduate. Under Keelan’s direction for 14 seasons, the NEPA Philharmonic became one of the country’s best regional orchestras with a remarkably broad repertoire. The Philharmonic’s growth continued under the tenure of Maestro Clyde Mitchell, and later under the appointment of music director Lawrence Loh, former associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and current Conductor of Symphoria and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Mélisse Brunet was introduced as the new music director in 2019.

Today, as the only fully professional symphony in the region, the NEPA Philharmonic regularly performs in facilities such as the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, The Theater at Lackawanna College in Scranton, and Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for the Creative Arts. The organization is comprised of a 21-member governing board of directors and three full-time and three part-time employees.

As the only arts and education organization in Northeastern Pennsylvania to successfully develop a multi-county base of support, education is an integral part of our mission in the community. Each year, the Philharmonic introduces classical music to thousands of children and other new audiences through innovative programming like the Crescendo Family Concert and the Young People’s Concerts, which offers a coordinated multi-disciplinary educational program. The NEPA Philharmonic also offers open rehearsals with an educational component, a piano competition, and special events for families.

Its concert series include classical and pop-themed performance programs, Independence Day concerts offered free of charge to the community, and holiday performances incorporating local choral and dance groups.